Washington, DC — The U.S. Congress will hold its first hearing on the growing toll exacted from public lands, visitors and budgets by irresponsible off road vehicle (ORV) traffic tomorrow afternoon. The hearing takes place almost one year after a “near riot” at Little Sahara Recreation Area in Utah where inebriated gangs of ORV riders terrorized thousands of campers, resulting in 300 arrests and 37 injuries, according to agency reports obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, chaired by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), will hold a groundbreaking oversight hearing entitled “The Impacts of Unmanaged Off-Road Vehicles on Federal Land” on March 13. Providing testimony will be upset property owners, angry Indian tribal representatives, frustrated federal officials and concerned law enforcers, including Jack Gregory, who retired as the Forest Service law enforcement agent in charge of the southern region.
Gregory will be testifying for Rangers for Responsible Recreation, a network of former state, federal and local law enforcement rangers and land managers organized by PEER. In his testimony, Gregory will provide the subcommittee with a blunt assessment of the gravity of the current state of affairs:
“Irresponsible off-roading has become such a menace that it is now the single greatest threat to American landscapes.”
Besides rapidly escalating damage to forest streams, wetlands, ravines and meadows, Gregory details ORV-generated law enforcement problems that are spinning out of control, including –
- Forest fires sparked by red-hot engines touching off dry grasses;
- Drug smuggling and trafficking in illegal aliens; and
- Mounting injuries, particularly to young, untrained riders.
In the face of rising ORV lawlessness, the Forest Service is dramatically cutting back on its ranger force. Gregory predicts that the current Forest Service attempt to designate ORV routes will fail due to, among other failures, inability to keep thrill-seeking off-roaders on designated trails.
“While we are glad Congress is finally beginning to look at the havoc wreaked by irresponsible ORV use on our public lands, the hard work is just beginning,” stated Southwest PEER Director Daniel Patterson, who organized Rangers for Responsible Recreation. “We need much tougher penalties for ORV abuse, such as vehicle forfeiture, provided there are enough boots on the ground to enforce basic protections.”
Taxpayer costs from ORVs will be another hearing topic. Statistics gathered and surveys conducted by PEER show that ORVs are now overwhelmingly the top law enforcement drain on public lands. To document long-term costs, Rep. Grijalva has requested an investigation by the Government Accountability Office into the amount of damage being inflicted on our public lands by ORV traffic.